I just want to apologize for today, and really, the next two weeks. As I gear up for the LA trip and then actually go there, my posts are probably going to be late. But I’m going to bust my ass to get them up as soon as possible, so I’m still hustling! Anyway, better late than never, right?
Genre: Thriller-ish Crime Drama
Premise: A computer poker player is hired by an offshore poker giant to run his company. But as his fortune and status grow, the player begins to sense that something is amiss.
About: Justin Timberlake baby! JUS-TIN TIMB-ER-LAKE. In this script, Justin reprises his Social Network roll as a sort of hotshot wonder boy who uses computers to build his wealth. The script sold earlier this year. Dicaprio’s production company, Appian Way, is producing with Double Feature.
Writers: Brian Koppelman & David Levien
Details: 124 pages – undated
I played poker once.
I never played again.
Okay, maybe not “the” end. But it was the end for me. Despite how much I disliked this strange game that operated by screwing people like me out of my hard earned money, I’d always been fascinated with poker from afar. When two people go “all in” (whatever that means), and there’s all that money on the table and only one person gets to win it? I mean, isn’t that the very definition of stakes?
But the online poker business brings a whole new spin to it. You don’t have to leave your house anymore. You can just hang out in your bed all day, play against other lazy home-dwellers, and rake in the digital dough.
How easy is THAT?? Very. Until you start losing your kids’ college tuition. Yup, not so easy anymore. But check this out. Even the ones who WON at online poker STILL got screwed. That’s because the government decided their Pa-pa-pa-poker game was illegal or something. So all that money that those places horded? All gone. And some players never saw a dime. Talk about the chips being down.
Ah, but there’s still one online poker joint still kicking! Ivan Block’s. Block’s set up an online poker haven in the Caribbean, somehow safe from the jurisdiction of U.S. governments. The man is raking in hundreds of millions of dollars and when you pull in that kind of cash, people get mad. People want a piece. Especially the IRS. But they can’t do anything about it. Even though they were able to do something about the other poker places.
More on Block in a second. Back in the real world, grad student Richie Furst is trying to scrape together enough money to pay for his Princeton education. And since he doesn’t have a lot of dough, he decides to gamble what he does have on some online poker. And he kills it. We’re talking tuition and then some! But as you already know, greed is a nasty little devil that has no mercy.
Richie keeps playing, and then, impossibly, within a ten minute span, loses every single cent he has. It would be devastating if there weren’t something odd about it. It was like, all of sudden, his competitors played completely irrationally. It’s suspicious enough that Richie goes to one of his Stanford Tech Buddies and has him run an analysis on his hand history. Tech Buddy confirms that, yup, the ace of spades made sure the ace got paid. And Richie ain’t the ace in this conversation.
So Richie, being Justin Timberlake, decides rather illogically to go to the Caribbean and confront the owner of the site, our tax-evading entrepreneur Ivan Block. I’m not sure anybody would do this in real life but hey, I’ll go with it. Once there, Richie uses his charm to get in front of the big guy, show him that he cheated him, and demand his money back. Well Block goes one better. He HIRES Richie.
You see, Block’s competitors are catching up (but aren’t they all out of business??) and he needs a boy-genius to give him an edge. So Richie does what he does best – computerizes shit so it’s better. And the money starts rolling in. But as the great…some rapper…said, “Mo money, mo problems.” And Richie definitely starts experiencing more problems. Going to deliver some dough to one of Block’s friends results in a Tyson-worthy pummeling. A few FBI agents on an extended Caribbean vacation keep popping up to remind Richie that if he doesn’t quit soon, he’ll never step foot in the US again. Cry me a river indeed.
But worst of all, Richie learns that Block may not be shooting straight with him (who woulda thought?) and that if he doesn’t do something soon, lack of vacations in the ole U.S. of A will be the least of his worries.
Runner Runner is a good script. I wouldn’t say there’s anything special about it but the execution is nearly flawless. If it weren’t for the familiarity, it would’ve gotten a much higher rating. But as it stands, it’s just good solid entertainment that does exactly what it sets out to do.
On the negative side, there are a few things that popped out to me. You get the feeling that this project started before the whole Online Poker collapse. Then when it happened it was sort of like, “Oh shit, what do we do now?” And it’s explained away with a two line snippet of dialogue that basically amounts to, “Oh yeah, those companies fell apart. But we didn’t.” Except Block’s company is doing the exact same thing and is based out of the exact same area. Not a script-killer. But it did raise an eyebrow.
Another thing that didn’t quite work was the Richie-Rebecca relationship. Rebecca is someone involved in the poker company when Richie gets there and the two fall for each other. But I couldn’t for the life of me figure out if Rebecca was with Block or wasn’t. Sometimes we’d hear that Rebecca “used to be” with Block a long time ago. Yet her and Richie seemed to be sneaking around trying to avoid Block. So were her and Block together or weren’t they?
The lack of clarity here is a big deal because it’s the difference between adding a whole other level to all the Richie-Rebecca-Block scenes or having them completely devoid of conflict. Don’t you want that tension there? That subtext?. If we know Richie and Rebecca are together even though Rebecca’s with Block and Block doesn’t know about it, that creates all sorts of potentially tense scenes. Though that was never explored here. Or if it was, it was done half-heartedly, I believe because the writers didn’t even know which way they wanted to go. There was no commitment!
I also would’ve loved for Block to be meaner. I was just never scared of the guy. These movies work best when the bad guy starts off your best friend but then slowly devolve into a monster, with a pivotal scene that just scares the shit out of us about the guy. I wanted that pivotal scene but never got it. I liked Block – but he definitely needs more. Where’s that danger??
But hey, the script moved like a bullet train and the writing was about as clean as it gets. After reading all these Twit-Pitch scripts where it takes writers 3 sentences to say what they easily could have said in 1, it was nice to read some professionals who could pack a sentence full of information to keep the line-count down. All writers need to learn how to do this!!!
Not great, but a pretty good script.
[ ] Wait for the rewrite
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: You can never fudge a relationship or a plot point. You have to COMMIT to it 100%. Because if you figure, “Ehhh, I don’t wanna do the work. We’ll just leave it be and they probably won’t notice.” Trust me, we ALWAYS notice. If you’re unclear about something, it comes off as unclear in the script. So this whole Rebecca-Block thing. It was never clarified if they were together. Therefore everything between Block and Rebecca, Block and Richie, Richie, Block and Rebecca – always had a cloud of confusion hanging over it. Clear that up and you could’ve had a whole boatload of great scenes between the three.
What I learned 2: Never say in three lines what you can say in one. Come on, guys. Work hard to make the read easier on your poor reader.